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Minnesota honors 10 refugees for making life better

Fourth annual Outstanding Refugee Awards recognize contributions

9/25/2020 4:06:16 PM

Ten people who came to Minnesota as refugees will receive awards this month for making a difference in their communities.

The fourth annual Outstanding Refugee Awards from the Minnesota Department of Human Services recognize refugees for civic engagement, entrepreneurship, young leadership and significant efforts during their first two years in the state. 

“People who come to the United States as refugees endure great hardship in order to realize their hopes for a better life for themselves and their families,” said Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead. “I’m so pleased to acknowledge the achievements of these individuals who have done so much to unify Minnesota and make our state a better place to live.” 

In 2019, Minnesota welcomed 891 refugees from 13 countries, about half of them children and youth. The largest number of refugees were from Burma, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ukraine.

The 2020 Outstanding Refugee Award recipients are listed below. 

The Civic Engagement Award recognizes individuals who make their communities stronger through civic participation:

  • Dr. Obsa Abdulla Hassan of Spring Lake Park, a physician at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, founder of the Axis Family Clinic in northeast Minneapolis, and a volunteer at Hadi Medical Clinic, a free community clinic in Brooklyn Center.
  • Hani Haybe of Minneapolis, a nurse at Hennepin Healthcare and the founder of Street Soccer Twin Cities.
  • Farhiya Iman of St. Cloud, a social worker for Stearns County and owner of Nori Cafe and Creamery.
  • Rufo Jiru of Shakopee, a chemist and humanitarian, founder of the Anole Sisters nonprofit in Minneapolis, an active member of the Disability Support International Advisory Working Group and the Minnesota Autism Council Working Group in St. Paul, and a board member of the Multicultural Autism Action Network and Minnesota International Non-governmental Organization Network in Minneapolis.
  • Novia Josiah-Isaac of Maplewood, a licensed social worker at the Center for Victims of Torture in St. Paul.

The Entrepreneurship Award goes to individuals who contribute to their communities in business, the arts or education:

  • Amran Abukar of Willmar, a cultural liaison at Kennedy Elementary School and an author.
  • True Thao of Cottage Grove, a mental health advocate and founder of True Thao Counseling Services.

The Young Leader Award acknowledges the contributions of young people who have achieved great milestones and are making a difference in their communities:

  • Ku Mo of St. Paul, a University of Minnesota student and community supporter.
  • Oballa Oballa of Austin, a student at Riverland Community College, an advocate and leader in the statewide LeadMN student organization, and an honorary member of the Austin City Council.

The New Beginnings Award recognizes individuals who have been in the country two years or less and exemplify resilience and courage while rebuilding their well-being and making Minnesota home: 

  • Bugondo (Blaise) Ntibonera of Minneapolis, a refugee resettlement case worker at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

The department canceled this year’s awards ceremony because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but plans to honor the 2020 award winners at an event next year.

For information about refugee services, visit


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